The tobacco industry has cautiously welcomed the announcement that cigarettes can be sold from Tuesday, but the ban on trade for five months has left it reeling.
The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), which primarily represents local manufacturers, on Friday won the right for the Supreme Court of Appeal to hear its bid to overturn the lockdown ban on tobacco sales.
The organisation said it met President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Saturday night that the ban would be lifted as part of a move to level 2 of lockdown from Tuesday “with a degree of caution”.
“The president has previously, on April 23 2020, made a similar announcement only for government to do a U-turn on their initial decision and instead maintain the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products. We will accordingly be awaiting the publication of the regulations in relation to lockdown level 2 following the president’s announcement that we will be shifting to this level.
“The announcement comes a bit late in the day as the ban has been in place for almost five months, despite our best efforts to try to engage government on this particular issue, and its devastating effects on the tobacco industry along its value chain will be felt for months if not years to come.
“We will be consulting with our legal team in the days to come with regards to a proposed way forward in relation to inter alia our court application challenging the cigarette sales ban at all levels of the lockdown period,” said Fita.
Another legal challenge has been around the prohibition of liquor in eateries which government says will be allowed under level 2 with strict conditions.
Eateries including restaurants and pubs may from next week serve alcohol on site until 10pm.
“It’s time to pop that champagne and to celebrate your strength and remarkable power,” the Restaurant Association of SA said to its members in reaction to the announcement.
While restaurateurs “have stretched [themselves] in ways unimaginable just to survive, the association said they had endured “the last 24 weeks with grace and perseverance hope and huge faith.”
“We will be inspired to rebuild our lives on the strong foundations that did not crumble under the uncertainty we have faced. We are the heartbeat and magic of every street, of every road, of every town, every city — let’s turn the lights back on and bring the music back and bring smiles and celebrations back into the lives of our guests doing what we love, serving beautiful food …,” said RASA.
Ramaphosa also announced that liquor outlets will be allowed to sell alcohol for off-site consumption from Monday to Thursday during the hours of 9am to 5pm only, effective from August 18. Inter-provincial travel will also be allowed for leisure purposes.
SA Breweries said, “We believe that opening up the economy and moving the country to alert level 2 is an important move for our economy. Lifting of the prohibition on the sale of alcohol will come as a welcome relief for our business and industry, and the million livelihoods who depend on us.”
“We fully understand that the situation requires vigilance and adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols, and we want to reassure our partners in government that we remain committed to supporting the national effort to curb the spread of this virus.”
Zoleka Lisa, vice-president of corporate affairs at SAB, added the company does “not condone reckless behaviour of any kind, especially as we fight to contain the spread of this virus.”
The company, along with the rest of the alcohol industry, has come together to affirm its commitment to partnering with the government to create a social compact for driving positive behavioural change regarding the use and consumption of alcohol, she said.
Sun International’s Graham Wood, group COO of hospitality, responded to Ramaphosa’s announcements, “To say we are delighted by this news would be an understatement.”
“It is unfortunate that the curfew [from 10pm and 4am] could not be further relaxed, but we are grateful and relieved that our restaurants can again serve alcohol. Lifting the onerous ban on alcohol will boost footfall to our properties.”
While casinos have been operating since July 1, he said the curfew has hurt the business by reducing operating hours at a time when numbers on the floor already had to be limited.